But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
Religious people often think that they are immune from laws that apply to everyone else, as if their religious rituals and rites make them immune.
If you read 2 Chronicles 26.1-15 you will the story of Uzziah, and it is a wonderful story of a brilliant king. He was a man of vision, a man who sought the Lord, a man who built many wonderful things. You could preach many sermons on these verses about the need to have a vision, the need to seek the Lord, the need to be bold and build great things for God and do great things for God.
But I want to focus on what happens next because we need to know what to do when we prosper. We need to know how to avoid the pitfalls of success. God wants us to succeed, and God will heal you, bless you, prosper you and make you a success. If you spend time in his Word you will be a good success and everything you do will prosper. Look at what happens next to Uzziah:
But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in. They confronted him and said “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honoured by the LORD God.
Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead so they hurried him out. Indeed he himself was eager to leave, because the LORD had afflicted him. King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house where he was relieved of responsibilities, leprous and excluded from the temple of the LORD. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land. Uzziah rested with his fathers and was buried near them in a field for burial that belonged to the kings, for people said, “He had leprosy.” – 2 Chronicles 26.16ff
The Bible said as long as Uzziah sought the Lord he prospered. But at the height of his success, he went wrong. We have had in the charismatic church far too many people go wrong at the height of their success. And one of the reasons why some people go wrong is religious pride.
Now I am only writing this to people who are seeking the Lord and increasing in success because if you do not really care about the things of God, this problem will never happen to you. If you read 2 Chronicles 26.16 you find that when Uzziah got pride into his life he went to the temple of God. His pride led him to the temple of God – not to the world. This is not worldly pride; most Christians would be too smart to fall for worldly pride. This is religious pride – it goes to church, it prays and it wraps itself up in the pretence of being Biblical.
And one of the greatest problems of religious pride is that it makes you think that the rules that apply to every one do not apply to you. That what you judge and condemn other people for doing you will have no consequences for.
Uzziah knew his history – as a king he would have had to have known the history of his nation. In his case, it was even more important because the history of Israel is the history of a God who makes and keeps promises to people. Uzziah knew the stories of Abraham, Moses, Saul and David probably better than most Christians do today. Uzziah must have known that Saul offered a sacrifice he was not supposed to and stepped into a calling that was not his – and Uzziah must have known that this action cost Saul the kingdom. (The story is found in 1 Samuel 13, and contains one of the most important statements that will prevent religious pride: “To obey is better than sacrifice.”)
Uzziah knew that Saul tried to fulfil a priestly role and it cost him the kingdom. Yet Uzziah thought he could repeat Saul’s sin and not have Saul’s consequences. Why? Religious Pride!
When I was a teenager I remember reading in the newspaper about the Bishop of Gallaway who mysteriously vanished. When he was found again, it transpired that he had run away with a married woman. When he was interviewed in the newspaper, I remember he actually said that because he had spent 20 years sacrificing and serving God he was entitled to a weekend off. This was a blatant example of religious pride: the bishop saw the source of his serving God and sacrifice as himself, not the grace of God. He thought that he was above the rules that applied to other people because of his great service to God.
Now I am sure that most people reading this would never assume because they have twenty years good service they are entitled to a dirty weekend! However, we do act at times like we are exempt from rules that apply to other people. More recently in a discussion with a pastor he told me that he never tithed or gave offerings because he was in full time ministry and had given his life to Jesus. This is an example of making yourself exempt from rules that apply to others, because of his “great” sacrifice. It is religious pride.
I think sometimes we treat our religious services like a Tesco Clubcard. If we do enough religious works, we get enough points and we can trade them in for something we like. I can watch this rubbish on TV because I prayed this morning. I can be rude to that person because I lead worship at church and it is hard work.
This is the message of Romans 2: God does not work on a points system. It is all grace. So stop condemning other people. Stop pointing out how other people are unclean and unworthy – of course they are and so are you. Let’s realize we all need the grace of God and start showing that grace to the church and the world.
To serve God fully, we need a vision of God. We will never have a commissioning to bring the Word of God to this nation; we will never have a revelation of God’s holiness and goodness until we deal with the attitude of Uzziah – the attitude of religious pride – and eradicate it from our lives:
In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim: each one had six wings, with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet and with two he flew.
And one cried to another and said:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.